The intersection of philosophy, family, and the lives we live

I’m thrilled that the latest episode of the New Ventures West podcast features me exploring the intersection of philosophy, family, and the lives we live.

Over the course of 26 minutes I talk with my colleagues Adam Klein and Joy Reichart about how philosophy can help us inquire into the mostly invisible background of practice and culture that shapes our lives, how our early families play a part in this, and how we might expand our ways of taking care of the world and of others in the light of what we find.

Along the way we explore the legacy of the philosopher Rene Descartes and the consequences of his powerful method for inquiry on our education system and our sense of ourselves; how more recent philosophers have sought to develop more inclusive and complete accounts of what it is to be a human being; the intersection of philosophy and science; and what all of this means for how we live our lives with meaning and dignity.

I’m delighted with the way this has turned out. I hope you will be too.

You can listen online here, or subscribe to the podcast (which features many of my colleagues) through iTunes here.

Learn with me – April, May and September

Three opportunities coming up in London in coming months, for those of you nearby or those who can travel here.

On Sunday April 17th, the latest Coaching Round Table run by me alongside the wise and growing faculty at thirdspace, the organisation I founded to bring a deep and integrating kind of learning to organisations, communities and our wider society. In the morning, an introduction to integral coaching, and in the afternoon a programme on mindful self-compassion with our friends Kate Fismer and Justin Haroun from the University of Westminster’s Centre for Resilience.

On May 4th-5th, Coaching to Excellence, our two-day introduction to the principles and practice of integral development coaching – open to everyone who’s interested in finding deeper, more inclusive and holistic approaches to supporting development in ourselves and in others. Led by me with my colleague and friend Janeena Sims.

And September 19th-21st, Integral Development Coaching Principles – a three-day course led by James Flaherty (founder of New Ventures West and author of ‘Coaching: Evoking Excellence in Others’) and me, for coaches and consultants who’d like to add a deep, rigorous, compassionate developmental angle to their work.

It’s incredibly exciting to get the opportunity to teach the work I love, so much of which is expressed in what I have been writing here for the past three years.

And I hope some of you will choose to join us – what a joy to get to share all of this with you in person.

Photo Credit: mhx via Compfight cc

On being unstoppable

Today I want to share, in its entirety, a post from my colleague Jessica Minah, in which she writes beautifully about both the human condition and the kind of coaching to which we are both dedicated in our work.

With my sincere thanks to Jess for her permission to reproduce her work here. You can see more about her and what she’s up to in the world at Pronoia Coaching.

Last week, I visited the webpage of a coaching school someone I know is considering. On the school’s homepage, a graduate of the program boasted that the school’s methodology had enabled her to teach her clients to be “unstoppable.” And that stopped me, right in my tracks.

The nature of being human is that we are eminently stoppable. Our very biology gives us natural limits to how hard we can push. We need to breathe, to drink, eat, and sleep. We crave touch, the sun, fresh air, and communication. Our bodies are covered in a soft flesh–relatively defenseless with no claws or sharp teeth. We bleed and heal. Our reproductive cycle gives us utterly helpless young, demanding that we stop and take notice and care for these vulnerable creatures. And, of course, we die–the ultimate full stop. Death comes for us all with no regard for how hard we try to push it back. To be human is to be stoppable.

And yet we seek to be unstoppable.

Life should be able to stop us. If not for beauty, then for heartbreak. If not for the joy of seeing a tree’s stark branches waving against a gray winter sky, then for the horror of seeing people starving to death in our own rich cities or drowning to death on the shores of Europe. If not for the pleasure of a beloved piece of music, then for the despair of another mass shooting. If not for the happiness on the face of a dear friend or family member, then for the agony present  when they suffer or when we let them down. Let life be present to us. Let it stop us.

To be unstoppable is to be blind to what is happening all around us. To be unstoppable is to refuse to notice the effect that progress–at any cost–might have on our relationships, our bodies, and our spiritual life. To be unstoppable is to deny our own biology. To deny our hearts and the beautiful web of relationships that surround us.

Sometimes the world demands a response. And sometimes the only response is to pause. To be stricken. To be soft. To take a moment to laugh, or to cry, or to hold someone’s hand. A moment of noticing how angry we are, or how sad, or how–this is the really hard one–how numb we’ve become.  And cultivating the ability to be stopped takes deep work.

It requires relational sensitivity to know when our families, colleagues, and friends need us to downshift and approach them in a new, more attentive way. It requires somatic wisdom to be able to sense our energy status and get a clear reading on what our bodies need. It takes emotional awareness to stay present in strong emotions while also noticing the emotional states of others. And, finally, the ability to stop often takes great bravery as it will likely be questioned by those who would not dare question the cultural value of being unstoppable.

In my coaching practice, I do not seek to teach clients to be unstoppable because I believe it is deeply problematic, even dangerous. What happens when you teach your client to be unstoppable, and their family and friends need them to stop because they have been neglecting their relational responsibilities? What happens when you have an entire culture of unstoppable people, and the culture next door needs them to stop because they are encroaching on ancestral lands? What happens when you have an entire planet of unstoppable people, and the environment is begging them to stop because species are going extinct and the land is being polluted?

Can you see where being unstoppable can lead? Do you see where it has already led?

Instead, I believe that we must learn to listen to the call of the world, to our loved ones, and to our bodies–to stop. In the coaching relationship, mutual trust and mutual respect create a strong container wherein clients can examine their relied upon, habitual responses. Over time, they become better at recognizing the persistent ‘turning away’ that is pandemic in modern society and eventually they learn to cultivate a new response. This requires learning new skills and competencies: patience, compassion, resilience, discernment, and the ability to self-observe, to name a few. I’ve seen clients, over time, become more resilient and able to stand in deep witness to their own emotional experience; to be stopped by the world, and to be touched by it. They have the freedom to experience their own reactions without becoming overwhelmed. This, in turn, affords them the opportunity to make choices that were unavailable to them before.

Today, let a small part of yourself be broken by this heartbreaking and fragile world. What might happen if you opened yourself up enough for this to occur? What meaning might leak into your life if you dared? Find out.


Learn coaching with us – October 1-2 in London

Everything I write about here is, in a very direct way, connected with one of my great loves – supporting the enduring growth and development of people.

Growth in this case means something more ambitious than getting happier, or getting what we want. Instead it’s being able to ever more skilfully turn towards the suffering and difficulty in the world with both creativity and compassion, and contribute to reducing it.

And there is so much difficulty we face. Some of it is reflected in the large scale issues that we see on the news, but much of it is of a more ordinary, close-in, prosaic kind – in our workplaces and in our homes.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be someone who could make a contribution to all that, and find meaning and fulfilment in doing so?

That’s what we’ll be studying and practising together on the two-day Coaching to Excellence course in London on October 1-2. Teaching these programmes (usually to a small group of between 8 and 14 people) is one of my greatest joys.

Coaching to Excellence is a chance to step in to the theory and practice of integral development coaching, and for anyone interested in becoming even more skilful as a coach it’s the doorway into the Professional Coaching Course I teach that begins in November.

Drop me a line if you’d like to know more or, if you’ve heard enough already, you’re welcome to sign up here to join us.

Photo Credit: Lars Plougmann via Compfight cc